Why I Teach Sex Ed: Oklahoma City, OK

by Courtney Peters

“I teach people about sex.” This is how I used to approach the situation when asked about my profession. I quickly realized that this statement elicited some very strange looks and many unwanted replies. Over the last 16 months, I have learned to elaborate, and now my response reads something like this: “I work in health education, so I teach classes on everything from puberty to contraception.” As can be assumed, this reply is more warmly received. Yet, in what other profession would I have to consider my response? For all the hullabaloo that comes along with this position, there must be some reason why I continue-day after day-to walk through Planned Parenthood’s door. In fact, there are many reasons why I applied to be a Community Health Educator and a myriad of other reasons that keep me going.
Courtney Peters with her supervisor, Terry Dennison
I live in Oklahoma. This great state boasts one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. In fact, we are number five[1](yippee?!), and Oklahomans seem to think this is not so bad. Yet, teen pregnancy is one of the main indicators for a life of both poverty and struggle. This seems pretty bad to me. Our kids desperately need education, and they are not getting it at school. Oklahoma is an abstinence only state, and sexuality education is not mandated. I did not know the gravity of the situation until I started working at Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma (covering the central and western portions of the state). And even then, I did not realize the widespread effect of our failure as a state until I began doing frequent community outreach. Our children know nothing about contraception, STIs, and their own bodies. The anonymous questions I receive at programs are outrageous. I was utterly shocked at first, but then I reflected on my own life.
I went to high school in Texas (notorious number three), and I lived in a home with a close lipped policy. My parents were unhappily married (now happily divorced), and I certainly could not talk to them about sex. I learned everything I knew from partners, and I was lucky that I tended to date knowledgeable individuals. In fact, I was even lucky enough to avoid a teen pregnancy or STI. I am a sexuality educator because I might not have been so lucky. I am a sexuality educator because kids should not have to rely on luck. Most importantly, I am a sexuality educator because I want to give others what I never received: knowledge about and confidence in one’s body, sexuality, and relationships.
To be as blunt as possible, my job is awesome. I travel around the state and teach people from all walks of life about sex and sexuality. I get to attend trainings on female condoms and HIV/AIDS. I can host events called “Cocktails and Condoms”! But beyond the superficial fun, there is a deep passion. I care so much (probably too much) about public health, and I want Oklahoma to be full of happy, healthy people. Teen pregnancy, STIs, and poor reproductive healthcare can get in the way of that goal. I hope that my big programs, small programs, talks, intimate chats, presentations, and blogs reach someone-anyone-who needs the information. I encourage my audiences to share knowledge with friends who might need it, and I hope that my recommendations are taken to heart.
While we are a two person team at Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma’s Education Department, I believe that we are mighty. Somehow, we serve 43 counties in Oklahoma, and although we cannot be everywhere (either through inability to split in half or strong opposition), our yearly audience of over 9,000 people is now an arsenal of information. It is my hope that they will share this material with friends, loved ones, partners, and strangers. I teach sex ed because I have faith in people, and I trust in our society’s inherent ability to help-not harm-others. I am a sexuality educator because I feel that we make a difference and change lives for the better. I am a sexuality educator because I believe that everyone deserves a chance. Above all, I am a sexuality educator because luck can only get someone so far.

[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/state-data/state-comparisions.asp?ID=4&sID=44&sort=rank#table
Editor’s Note:
“Why I Teach Sex Ed” profiles sexuality educators throughout the nation.  This column appears each Monday.  If you teach sex ed and would like to tell your story, send your submission, in 350-700 words, to Bill@SexEdStore.com.

2 Responses to “Why I Teach Sex Ed: Oklahoma City, OK”

  1. Danger Darling

    This is a great story. As a fellow Oklahoman, I admire your tenacity in teaching sex education in a state in which sex is such a taboo subject.

  2. Anonymous

    Really stupid article. Has anything gone down, teenage pregnancy or std rates since sex ed started being taught? I didn’t think so. Get over yourself.